The Britannia Leisure Centre is set to be demolished as plans to redevelop the site in Shoreditch Park proceed.
Senior councillors will consider proposals to appoint a main contractor for the second phase of the project, which would see the final demolition of the original leisure centre as its replacement opens alongside a new school building and 93 new homes, of which 48 will be for council social rent.
The Britannia project has been at the heart of debate in the borough for years, emblematic of the Town Hall administration’s approach to act as its own developer by building homes for private sale to pay for affordable housing, but it has faced criticism from Save Britannia Leisure Centre (SBLC) campaigners who have long called for the original building’s refurbishment.
SBLC’s Pat Turnbull said: “It’s not like we didn’t know it was going to happen, but it’s still horrible. None of this was necessary. They could have kept the trees round the Britannia, which were cut down and calls into question their green credentials. They could have kept the hard courts on Shoreditch Park instead of building a huge building and cutting out a load of open space.
“Of course, they didn’t need to build the school, because schools had thousands of free places. And they didn’t need to spend all that money on building a new leisure centre, as they could have refurbished the existing leisure centre for half the cost.
“The people round about have been subjected to constant aggravation, noise, dust, traffic as a result of these unneccessary building works, at a time when they are already under severe stress because of the pandemic.”
Turnbull went on to question the wisdom of continuing the scheme at a time when local authorities face major financial uncertainty as the fallout from the pandemic continues.
The council has said in the past that the existing centre had become increasingly expensive to maintain, with sections needing patching up or closing regularly and outdated facilities. The new centre is set to boast new versions of existing facilities, as well as an expanded gym, new cafe, toilets and soft play spaces, and three additional swimming areas with flume and leisure water.
According to a council report on the decision, the homes delivered under the next phase of the Britannia scheme, Phase 2a, will provide better value for money for Hackney residents, with the Town Hall pointing not only to the nearly 90 per cent of the new homes that will be for social rent and shared ownership, but also to the fact that they will be managed by the council’s own housing management service.
The council also hopes that the scheme will “improve the ecological value” of the area, through improved landscaping of its public realm elements, with significant reductions in carbon emissions delivered by a proposed energy centre on the Colville Estate serving the area.
The report contains a pledge that a “key principle” of the Britannia masterplan is for as many trees to be kept as possible, with those removed to be replaced in order to achieve the same canopy cover in comparison to pre-development within the first 10 years.
Responding to SBLC campaigners’ criticism of the ongoing project, the council pointed to the replacement of the 65 trees removed at the start of works with 100 additional trees, as well as to the new facility for City of London Academy Shoreditch Park, which is oversubscribed and based in temporary premises.
The council also stressed that all outdoor sports which used to take place on the hardcourts on which the new Britannia is being built will be able to be played on the pitches on the new centre’s roof, with users able to access toilets, changing facilities, lockers and free drinking water.
The construction project also has a caveat for the contractor that they will be obliged to minimise construction related disruption, with the preferred bidder for the works to put up monitoring stations for noise, dust and vibration.
The council is also seeking to mitigate the disruption to Shoreditch Park Primary School, with parents up in arms earlier in the year over plans to build on the school’s playground.
Housing needs chief Cllr Rebecca Rennison, who accepts that the site is “complex” due to construction to take place within the school’s perimeters, has emphasised that the council has taken steps to invest in a new ball court, toilets, dance studio, playgrounds, ICT equipment, rooftop play space and music room for the school.
The laying of foundation in the school grounds has been slated for summer 2021, to avoid works taking place when the school is open.
In total, Phase 2a of the scheme will see the construction of 93 new homes, of which 48 are for council social rent, 33 for shared ownership, and 12 for outright sale that are designed to help cover the cost of the affordable homes.
A council report on the decision reads: “The shortage of affordable housing is a significant issue within Hackney, with 3,000 households living in temporary accommodation and nearly 13,000 on the housing waiting list. Phase 2a will provide nearly 90% affordable housing – made up of 48 social rented and 33 shared ownership homes – and will therefore contribute towards meeting some of this housing need.
“The council is committed to building new homes that are adaptable to the varying needs of occupiers over time and that will enable people to live independently in their homes for longer.
“On balance Phase 2a and the wider Britannia development will contribute positively to the Hackney community through the reprovision of a high quality leisure centre, new secondary school, affordable housing and Early Years Centre. Measures are being put in place to mitigate the impact of the Phase 2a development on the adjacent school during the construction phase, and longer term regarding access to high quality play space.”
Mayor of Hackney Philip Glanville said: “I have promised throughout that the existing Britannia Leisure Centre will only be permanently closed once the state-of-the-art new leisure facilities that will take its place are ready to open.
“Thanks to the incredible progress over this year, and despite the challenges caused by the pandemic, we are on course to open this fantastic new facility for Hackney residents next year.
“We are now progressing plans to replace the leisure centre and deliver the next phase of the project, where Hackney is planning on building dozens of genuinely affordable new homes alongside a much-needed new secondary school. This illustrates, if there was any doubt, our commitment to delivering this much needed social and public infrastructure upfront and before any private sale home or loss of amenity.
“Time and time again through the council’s actions we have shown the arguments of the Save Britannia Leisure Centre campaign to be alarmist and misplaced – indeed it is difficult to understand what they are still campaigning to ‘save’ given the expanded services that will be offered in the new leisure centre.”